Paul Offers Philemon a Lesson in Forgiveness
Bible Study: Philemon 4-17
A child has three basic needs: Food, a family and instructions.
Food provides nourishment for physical growth; a family provides the nourishment of love for protection and for emotional growth; and instruction provides the child with mental growth.
It is tragic when a child is deprived of one of these basic requirements or when he refuses to receive them. How much more important is the spiritual food of the Bible and prayer in the life of a child of God, the loving acceptance of a church family and the instructions on how to live as a member of the family of God. And how tragic it is when a child of God refuses to learn the most basic Christian instruction, forgiveness.
Paul instructed his brother and friend in Christ, Philemon, in how to forgive another brother in Christ, Onesimus. Onesimus was a runaway slave or had possibly stolen from his master, Philemon, or had cheated him in some way (vv. 11, 15-16, 18). Paul had led Onesimus to Christ and had begun to instruct him in the Christian life (v. 10). He was sending Onesimus back to Philemon for forgiveness and for reconciliation even though Onesimus was helping Paul while he was suffering in prison (v. 12-13).
First, Paul taught Philemon on the priority of forgiveness and reconciliation. For Paul, the need for Philemon to forgive and reconcile with Onesimus was more important than the personal ministry he was receiving from Onesimus and giving to Onesimus (vs. 12-13). Jesus taught this priority in Matthew 5:23-24, "... first go and be reconciled to your brother."
Second, Paul taught Philemon the priority of sacrifice in forgiveness. Before there can be forgiveness, there must be sacrifice. One of the reasons we are slow to forgive is because we are slow to sacrifice. We prefer to hold on to hurt feelings, important ministries and institutions rather than to forgive. God wants us to hold on to each other and to sacrifice our hurt feelings, ministries and institutions, if need be, in order to forgive and to reconcile with one another. Jesus is our example to follow in such a thing as this. He has empowered us with his Spirit in order to accomplish such an important thing as this.
Above all else is the witness that forgiveness declares. When we give to people who have wronged us what God has so abundantly given to us, it proclaims to the world the kind of God that God is. Maybe others are slow to believe in Christ because we are slow to forgive one another.
One more thought: Forgiveness is immediate and complete. Reconciliation is a process. Before reconciliation can begin, forgiveness must be given and received. The process of reconciliation takes time.
Bubba Stahl is pastor of First Baptist Church in Kingsland, Texas.
CC Image • Lars_in_Japan on Flickr
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